India is a free country, they say. But many a time, I seriously doubt it. For eg, in Kerala, whenever a politician or one of his minions feels things are getting too quite, he declares a state wide hartal. The rest of us have to participate in the strike even if we have absolutely no idea what particular ailment of the politician prompted this declaration. Don't get me wrong, I always love a strike, irrespective of whether the UDF or LDF declares it, and irrespective of whether it is a protest against the increase in petrol prices or fall in onion prices. Nothing beats an unexpected holiday in the middle of the week. But the point is that I have to stay at home just because someone else says so. I am not against the staying at home part either, but just in case I have a sudden urge to drive to the middle of the town and do a few Jhamak Challo dance steps on the street, I wouldn't be able to, not unless I am OK with a broken windshield and a few broken bones.
Not convinced? OK, here is another one. One fine day, if I decide I want to shift to a new location, I cannot employ whoever I wish to shift my goods. There are labour unions within every few square metres, and I can make use of only their expertise for loading and unloading my goods. This means I have to agree to whatever ridiculous charges they quote even if it is higher than the price of the goods I want to move. And they have a funny way of unearthing secret plans to move stuff using cheaper labour instead of employing them, so such plans won't work either (just in case you were getting ideas). But they are not all bad, you know, for they are willing to let others do the work just as long as you are willing to pay them their wages. This is called "noku kooli" which literally translates to "look over wages". I am not bluffing, though I heartily wish I were.
You realize the full impact of this ridiculous system only if you have to move your goods to a location that falls out of the "jurisdiction" of the area from where you started. Because then the labourers who loaded the goods into a lorry or petti auto for you (against your will) are not supposed to unload them at your destination. This is the task of another set of labourers who are part of the union in the new area! Makes you wish you had simply left everything behind, doesn't it?
But we beat the system! Though I seem to be the only person to say so, my family is an ingenious group of people. A few years back, when my cousins were moving to a new house, my dad devised a cunning plan to keep expenses to a minimum. To start with, he got the labourers in the area from where we had to move on his side. Then he convinced them to move the goods at night when the entire town was sure to be asleep. To everyone's (except my dad's) surprise, the plan worked beautifully. The workers arrived at night and started their work. Within a few hours the truck was loaded with everything that my cousins owned (and some things they had no idea they owned), and the goods were unloaded at the new house. The labourers at the new place had no idea of the covert operation that took place right under their noses! Bravo!
The whole process was tiring and though we kids hadn't done anything (except call up unknown numbers in the middle of the night and ask whoever answered the phone what the time was. Thank god there were no caller IDs at the time), we were all hungry. Someone heard that the labourers were off to some thattu kada (road side eatery) for a midnight meal. Thattu kada was kind of a new thing at the time, and we had never been to one. But we imagined the food was hot and spicy and everything that food should be. After lot of loud fantasizing about the food and meaningful sighs and glances at my father, he (finally got the message and) got the labourers to buy beef olarthiyathu and porotta for us. It wasn't exactly what we had thought it would be, for the beef had turned cold, and had too much fat in it. But it was one fun meal.
Beef Olarthiyathu is beef fried with plenty of red onions or pearl onions, and Indian spices. You can try out the very naadan beef olarthiyathu at a thattu kada (I hear there are "family thattu kadas" now), or make one at home using the below recipe:
You will need:
1 kg beef, cut into bite sized cubes
1 tsp red chili powder + 1 tsp coriander powder + 2 tsp pepper powder
3 cardamom pods + 3 cloves + 1 tsp fennel seeds + 1 cm piece cinnamon + 1 star anise
2 tsp chopped ginger + 2 tsp chopped garlic
¼ to ½ cup coconut slices (thenga kottu)
1 tsp mustard seeds
4 sprigs curry leaves
2 large onions - thin long slices
2 tbsp garlic, chopped + 1½ tbsp ginger, julienned
2 tsp red chili powder + 1 tsp coriander powder + 1 tbsp fennel seeds
4 green chilies, slit lengthwise
To taste, salt
¾ tbsp pepper powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
5 tbsp coconut oil
Mix the beef cubes with all the ingredients labeled A. Pressure cook the beef till it is cooked to your liking, and boil off any excess liquid.
In a large pan or wok, heat coconut oil. Fry coconut slices till lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside. Add mustard seeds into the same oil and let them splutter merrily. Add curry leaves, ginger and garlic. Fry till aromatic, then toss in onion slices. Fry for about 8-10 minutes till the onions start browning. Next the green chilies need to go in, followed by the chili powder, coriander powder and fennel seeds. Mix everything together for a couple of minutes on a low flame.
Add cooked beef along with coconut slices to the pan and mix together. Over a medium low flame, fry the beef stirring every now and then till the beef has turned dark brown. Add some more oil if you find the beef getting too dry too fast, or if it catches the bottom of the pan. Adjust seasoning, sprinkle over pepper powder and garam masala, give one last mix, and the beef is ready to serve.
Enjoy with rice.